Fire

Dempsey at the double: U.S. outlasts Honduras in Gold Cup opener

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Dempsey at the double: U.S. outlasts Honduras in Gold Cup opener

What began as a scintillating foray from Honduras and an enthralling finish fizzled out via Clint Dempsey's brace, which gave the U.S. men's national team a marginal 2-1 victory in their CONCACAF Gold Cup Group A opener Tuesday night in Frisco, Texas. 

Jorge Luis Pinto, who came within a whisker of leading Costa Rica to the quarterfinals of last year's World Cup, discharged his energetic pressing style with Honduras from the onset.

His side nearly took an early lead with a sequence that kickstarted a frenetic opening 45 minutes. Forward Anthony Lozano burst through the U.S. back line, left multiple defenders in his wake and fired a low shot at Brad Guzan, who was there to meet it and palm away to spare the Americans' blushes. 

Despite being somewhat overcome by the occasion in the early going, Jurgen Klinsmann's side found a revitalizing breakthrough five minutes shy of the half-hour mark. A well-worked corner kick, orchestrated by DeAndre Yedlin and Michael Bradley, made its way across the box. The captain's cross pinged around before Jozy Altidore's shot at 'keeper Donis Escober popped up for Dempsey to snap his header home from close range and give the Americans a 1-0 lead. 

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Minutes later, Yedlin squandered an opportunity to provide the U.S. with a much-needed cushion. Fabian Johnson sliced through an open channel - running from his left back position - and slipped the Tottenham defender through on goal, only to be denied by Escober, who closed down the angle well. 

In the second half, the sloppy play continued to rear its head before Dempsey provided what would prove to be the match-winner. A looping and inviting free-kick delivery from Bradley set up Dempsey - ghosting through to the back post - and exposed glaring deficiencies in the Honduran defense, as the Seattle Sounders forward cashed in on poor marking to notch his second goal of the game, giving the U.S. some breathing room and a firmer stronghold on the match. 

Carlos Discua cut the lead in half in the 70th minute, however. The midfielder took a good touch to skip past Ventura Alvarado and expertly sent a shot over Guzan's left shoulder to pull the Hondurans back within one, setting up a nervy final 20 minutes.

[RELATED: USMNT opens CONCACAF Gold Cup play vs. Honduras]

With a quarter of an hour remaining, Bradley's attempt at goal from a direct free kick nearly caught Escober off guard, but the 'keeper was alert enough to prevent the captain from extending the lead even further.

It didn't always look pretty, but a gritty performance and perseverance on display against a well-drilled Honduran outfit will undoubtedly serve Klinsmann's delegation well as it continues Group A action on Friday. Panama and Honduras square off before a U.S.-Haiti matchup rounds off a doubleheader in Foxborough, Mass.

United States Starting XI (subs):

Brad Guzan; Fabian Johnson, John Brooks, Ventura Alvarado, Timothy Chandler (Brad Evans, 63'); Kyle Beckerman, Gyasi Zardes (Graham Zusi, 87'), Michael Bradley (C), DeAndre Yedlin; Jozy Altidore (Chris Wondolowski, 59'), Clint Dempsey.

Honduras Starting XI (subs):

Donis Escober; Wilmer Crisanto, Maynor Figueroa (C), Johnny Palacios, Henry Figueroa (Eddie Hernandez, 75'), Brayan Beckeles; Mario Martínez (Carlos Discua, 69'), Bryan Acosta, Alfredo Mejía, Andy Najar (Romell Quioto, 62'); Antony Lozano.

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

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USA TODAY

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

Coach Veljko Paunovic still went with a second-choice lineup to start the Fire's preseason match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Wednesday, but the second half featured the first preseason action for Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Schweinsteiger came on for the second half, along with Nemanja Nikolic, Johan Kappelhof and a few other Fire regulars. The German sat out the first four preseason games, but looked sharp in his 45 minutes.

One of the highlights was this smooth move between two defenders:

Schweinsteiger also had an impressive switch pass to set up a shot for second-round pick Diego Campos in the final minutes of the game. Campos drilled the shot on target, but was unable to beat the goalkeeper.

The team did not say Schweinsteiger was injured despite the repeated absences in matches. The Fire have dealt with injuries to Matt Polster, Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Grant Lillard this preseason. None of those four, along with Dax McCarty, played in the 0-0 draw.

The Fire next play Saturday at Orlando in a final match in Florida before returning to Chicago. The Fire also play Tulsa, the team's USL affiliate, at Toyota Park on March 3 before taking on Sporting Kansas City in the season opener on March 10.

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

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USA TODAY

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.

The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).

Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.

The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.

All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.

Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.

Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.

The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.